Tiger factor looms large in PGA Tour’s health

LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – With Tiger Woods  overshadowing the sports world like a colossus, the PGA Tour  has so far managed to provide fairly robust resistance to the  global economic downturn.

Although neither Woods nor the lucrative U.S. circuit have  been totally immune to financial woe, both appear to be in  surprisingly good health.

Woods won six times in 17 events on the 2009 Tour and ended  his campaign with earnings of $10,508,163.

Although disappointed he failed to add to his career tally  of 14 majors, the world number one also clinched the  season-long points race for the FedExCup along with a bonus of  $10 million.

While sport has been left vulnerable to the loss of  marketing and advertising dollars over the last 12 months, the  Tour has negotiated fairly smooth waters.

The U.S. circuit was fully sponsored for 2009 and although  the troubled Detroit automaker Buick has withdrawn two title  sponsorships for next year, one of those events has already  been replaced.

Commissioner Tim Finchem predicts that perhaps two more  sponsors could disappear before the end of 2010 but, overall,  he believes the Tour is in a “comparatively quite good”  situation amid the economic downturn.

“The good news is we’ve had a lot of good extensions well  out into the future,” Finchem said at last week’s Tour  Championship. “I think we’re going to have some … additional  new sponsors over the next two or three years.

“I’d characterise the situation as good, maybe even  comparatively quite good, when you look at other enterprises.  But certainly we have our challenges ahead of us.”

Earlier this week two news stories emerged on the same day,  one highlighting the power of the Tiger factor and the other  proving that golf cannot afford to be complacent.

On the golf front the Tour announced Verizon Heritage would  not renew its title sponsorship of the Heritage Classic in  Hilton Head, South Carolina after the 2010 edition.
FUTURE

INVOLVEMENT

A title sponsor for more than 20 years, Verizon said it  would be restructuring its future involvement with the circuit  and would focus instead on “select” events that provided more  opportunities for business development throughout the year.

Within hours of that announcement Forbes Magazine reported  Woods had become the first person in sport to earn more than $1  billion.

According to Forbes the 33-year-old American crossed that  threshold with the help of his $10 million FedExCup bonus.

“Woods has been the world’s highest-paid athlete since 2002  when he surpassed (Formula One’s Michael) Schumacher,” the  magazine reported.

“His earnings have surged in recent years as he launched a  golf-course design business. He currently has three courses  underway that pay him more than $10 million per project.”

For many people Woods is golf and he has almost  single-handedly ushered in an era of multi-million dollar  endorsements and lucrative appearance money since turning  professional in 1996.

His Afro-American-Asian background has spread the sport to  an audience far beyond its traditional image of male, white and  middle-class and he has become the world’s best known and most  marketable athlete.

“He’s the best draw out there,” Robert Boland, professor of  sports management at New York University, told Reuters.

“If you’re a sponsor of an event, generally what will  happen is you’ll cut your overall spend, you’ll cut your spend  in the middle, but you’ll keep your best value deal out there.

“For a lot of people that best value deal probably is the  PGA (Tour) and the event that Tiger is in. There’s always been  some discrimination in favor of events Tiger plays.”

When Woods competes the television ratings soar along with  an abundance of advertising dollars.

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